NEW YORK (Reuters) –
Wall Street hopes to turn a new page as it heads into November, but next week is littered with hurdles ranging from the U.S. presidential election to a likely gloomy jobs report.
Traders were more than happy to see the back of October, one of the worst months in history for the broader market, and took heart from the fact that it ended with one of the best weeks on record.
This week's strength came as the host of efforts by central banks and governments to ease credit strains began to bear fruit, and volatility abated slightly. Bargain hunting and funds buying stocks to rebalance their portfolios also helped boost stocks.
For the first part of next week, Wall Street -- like the rest of America -- will turn its attention to Tuesday's presidential election.
Democrat Barack Obama's lead over Republican rival John McCain held steady at 7 points as the race for the White House entered its final four days, according to a Reuters/C-Span/Zogby tracking poll released on Friday.
Investors will likely assess the possibility of quick fiscal stimulus after the election and the risk of protectionist measures or more regulation.
Paul Nolte, director of investments at Hinsdale Associates in Hinsdale, Illinois, said as long as the election was decisive, stock markets will likely react positively, regardless who wins.
Thomson Reuters data shows that on average the 60 days preceding a new presidential term yield positive returns, suggesting that the lack of uncertainty after elections usually gives the market a boost.
"Once we know what the balance of power will look like, investors can factor that into the equation. The market may not like who wins, but it will like knowing," said Christopher Zook, chairman and chief investment officer of CAZ Investments in Houston.
But a raft of economic data will be vying for investors' attention, as will earnings reports in the last heavy week of the autumn results season.
Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at Davidson Companies in Lake Oswego, Oregon, said he expects the economic data "won't make very good reading as the news coming from companies who have already reported third-quarter earnings continues to point to an economy that has come to an abrupt stop, primarily as a result of the credit crisis."
HUGE JOB LOSSES FORESEEN
In the week ahead, the main event on the economic calendar is the October U.S. employment report. That data, due on Friday, is expected to show that U.S. nonfarm payrolls shed 200,000 jobs in October, according to a Reuters poll, while the unemployment rate is forecast to rise 6.3 percent.
Other key economic reports include the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reports on manufacturing on Monday and non-manufacturing, or service-sector, activity on Wednesday. Both are expected to produce readings showing that the economy contracted in October.
Among the major companies set to report earnings next week are Anadarko Petroleum (APC.N), MasterCard (MA.N), Cisco Systems (CSCO.O) and Sprint Nextel (S.N).
With 59 percent of S&P 500 companies having reported earnings in the third quarter, on average earnings for companies in the index are expected to fall 23.8 percent for the quarter.
Any further easing in credit strains, however, could help the market look past weak economic and earnings data, analysts said.
"Volatility will likely continue, though maybe not to the extremes we have seen," said John Praveen, chief investment strategist at Prudential International Investments Advisers LLC in Newark, New Jersey.
"You have some stabilization in the credit markets, but there is also still a lot of ugly economic news that is washing up on to the shore, so there is still that to and fro," he added.
On Friday, short-term credit markets showed more signs of emerging from a deep freeze as banks again lowered the rates they charge each other for borrowing dollars overnight and central banks across the world made the currency more easily available.
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve's efforts to shore up short-term lending for companies and banks continued to build momentum in the critical commercial paper market with a program the U.S. central bank launched this week.
"I think we probably have passed the worst as far as credit market lock-up and the ending of the world as we know it," Hinsdale Associates' Nolte said.
That said, "I don't think we're completely out of the woods yet," he added.
TRICKS AND A HALLOWEEN TREAT
October was a nightmare for U.S. stock investors, with the Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) ending the month down 14.06 percent -- its worst monthly percentage drop since August 1998. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (.SPX) slid 16.83 percent this month for its worst one-month percentage slide since October 1987. The Nasdaq lost 17.73 percent in October, its worst one-month percentage loss since February 2001.
For the week, though, Wall Street wrapped up a rotten month with a Halloween treat. Stocks ended Friday's session higher, following Thursday's advance a day after the Fed's half-percentage-point rate cut. This performance gave the U.S. stock market its first back-to-back gains in over a month.
The Dow finished the week up 11.3 percent, its best weekly percentage gain since October 1974, while the S&P 500 climbed 10.5 percent, its best weekly percentage gain since at least January 1980. The Nasdaq rose 10.9 percent, its best weekly percentage gain since April 2001.
A big bright spot: U.S. oil futures prices dropped a record 32.62 percent in October. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, U.S. front-month crude settled at $67.81 a barrel -- down $32.83 from its close on September 30.
(Wall St Week Ahead appears every week. Comments or questions on this column can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Reporting by Kristina Cooke, with additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica and Leah Schnurr; Editing by Jan Paschal)